In the last 7 years, my husband and I managed to buy three houses, remodel two and sell one. It’s not that I am an expert (I do watch lots of HGTV though) but somehow, I now have a pretty clear idea of what I am willing and not so willing to do for my living happiness. Today’s conversation is about housing. How much is too much? Does a big house mean a happier life? And when do you say NO, we can’t afford this house?
I am certainly not going to give you advice or judge any decision. This is a very personal choice but here are a few things to consider as you shop for your first (or next) house:
-How important is a big/expensive house for you? Do you define your success by having a 3,000 sq ft house, by having a pool, and by living next to Kim Kardashian, or do you care less about all that and just want enough space to put your belongings? Most people don’t think about this at length; a nicer house is just assumed to be more desirable. But given that housing will probably be your biggest expense, I would suggest figuring out how much happiness and satisfaction the big/expensive house will bring you and buy right at that price point where bigger and better no longer matters but where smaller and cheaper makes you feel like you just didn’t get what you wanted from life. Look for the point that makes you feel like you got enough without regretting the purchase.
-Consider where you live. I was talking to a friend of mine who lives in Atlanta and who recently bought a 3,000+ sq ft mansion for $400k. Unfortunately, we are not talking from the same perspective. The same $400k gets me a 1,400 sq ft town home in Los Angeles that is in dire need of a remodel. No matter how much you want that big house, if you live in Los Angeles, Seattle or San Francisco, it may not be that possible. Solution? Consider finding a new job in Missouri. You can exponentially increase your happiness and the housing situation (if that is what is important in your life) by moving. Look at your life as a whole; does getting a new job in a new place will make your situation better? Consider moving if it does.
– Consider what else you want to do with your life. Everyone has heard about being “house poor” and I bet that living it is no fun. Do not take on the full mortgage that you have been prequalified for. Those numbers are ridiculous. Somehow, every time my husband and I were looking for a house, we got approved for about 3 times more than I was comfortable spending. That’s not happening. Do you want to go travelling, buy things, enjoy your life without having to spend 50% of your paycheck on a house? Maybe you should really think what your real max is then. Somehow, no matter what your budget is, your realtor will show you houses right above it. Know your number and don’t deviate because no matter how much you might like that house (it’s easy to get seduced), if it’s going to become an impediment to the life you want to live, is it really worth it? Be clear what you can and can’t afford and don’t bend your limits.
At the end of the day, some of us see houses as places to live and others, see houses as defining components of their success. Figure out where you stand. Get the house that makes you happy enough to come home every night without inducing the stress of paying for a mortgage you can’t afford. And remember that in some cases, buying a house does not necessarily make sense and it’s ok to rent.
Inga Chira CFP®, Ph.D. is the Founder and President of Attainable Wealth, a Fee-only, virtual, comprehensive financial planning and investment management firm focused on serving the academic community.
Contact Inga: [email protected] (904) 994-0454